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Meet Roeun Sokhom, professional painter and graduate from Phare Ponleu Selpak

By: Arthur Nguyen dao

sokha-painter1When I interview the artist the troupe is just coming back from a three months tour in France. When I ask Sokhom and the other artists in the room how the tour was I get a big smile and an “amazing”. There is some happiness floating in the air.

Before talking about live painting, Sokhom tells me a bit about his personal story.

As far as he can remember, Sokhom has always loved painting and drawing. One day he heard about a good school that was giving free painting classes. The poor kid had finally the opportunity to learn something he had always wanted to.

Young Sokhom came to Phare Ponleu Selpak and asked the professors to take him in the drawing classes. But this was not the beginning of his training as the professors told him that he had to wait a few months because the classes were full. So he tried to learn a bit of circus but his body was hurting so much after the trainings that he had to take a few days rest after them. “I was painter, not a circus performer”.

© Régis Binard

© Régis Binard

At first, his family did not really agree with a visual arts training, worrying that he would not be able to make a living out of it. “My parents wanted me to learn skills that would bring money quickly, like computer or driving skills.”

Soon enough, his artwork started to meet success with exhibitions in Asia and Europe. Sokhom now lives and works in Studio Art Battambang and he gives half of his incomes to his family.sokha-painter4

The tour in France was not his first time in the country but he did not enjoy it less, he says. This time was special for him as it was his first tour with the circus performers and musicians. The painter somehow got back to circus.

Of course, he enjoyed going to as much exhibitions as possible but the artist who made the strongest impression on him was Vincent Van Gogh. Auvers sur Oise, the French city of impressionism where Van Gogh is buried, was an especially strong experience for him.

I saw some pictures of Sokha so I know that he paints the same canvas during each show. I wonder what he feels about it and ask him if it is not too difficult to not be free to create what he wants during the show.

“Actually, the painting is always different. The theme has to remain the same because we tell a story but I put my emotions in the painting so I can bring my touch of creativity.”

sokha-painter5sokha-painter6

If you get to see Sokhom’s artwork you will admire a variety of very different paintings. “My painting style tends to change because I paint and draw on spot everything I see and feel. Basically, my style evolves with my life experience. You see the painting with the red flowers? I started it as a Cambodian rice field. You can even see a palm tree, but I saw some French landscapes with many poppies so the final result is a Cambodian-French landscape.”

sokha-painter7Sokhom explains that he practices live painting a lot. It actually started with the artists of his generation in Phare Ponleu Selpak. They were used to do a lot of live painting in the streets of Battambang. What does he like in live painting?

“I think I probably like live painting even more than painting in my studio. Studio painting is for exhibition, although sometimes live painting pieces are exhibited too. In the studio you think about selling, exhibiting and success. Live painting is about sharing. I can show people what it is to paint, I can do many different techniques and I only think about expressing my creativity and my emotions.”

© Régis Binard

© Régis Binard

I turn to Nem Sothea, acrobat, and ask him what it is like to perform with a painter.
“I love it. You know, I really appreciate Sokha because we have very strong moments with the different artists.
On top of that, it allows us to remind the people that Phare is not only about circus and that we have many different disciplines: circus, music, painting, dance …”

One last thing to say?
“I really like when people come to see the show and start understand the issues that Cambodia is facing. The war was almost over when I was born so I did not experience it and the show told me a lot about the history of my country. Performing Sokha is a way for us to share our history with the audience and it helps us rebuild Cambodia with arts and transmit a positive message to the future generations of the school.”


Read more about the Visual and Applied Arts School at Phare Ponleu Selpak

See Sokhom performing live.